Antonio Gaudi is Barcelona’s patron architect. Much of the city bears his stamp. Nowhere is this more evident than in his unfinished masterpiece, The Temple of the Holy Family. Work began in 1883 but halted after the architect’s untimely death from a tram accident in 1926.
On its way to becoming as tall as nearby Montjuic mountain (564 feet/172m), this tribute to the architect’s passion is one of Barcelona’s great wonders. Over 120 years later, the cathedral is still actively under construction and is scheduled to continue for the next 40 years.
The exterior is a series of spires surrounding a narrow portal that admits visitors to the interior. Looking at the unusual towers, it’s clear where Cesar Pelli, the designer of the Petronas Towers in Malaysia, received his inspiration.
But before going in, take time to marvel at the hundreds of small friezes that adorn the facade. There are figures of saints and ordinary folk alike, all done in a fantastic modern style, unlike any other church. At times, they appear almost cubist.
Note the many high-arched windows that surround the building, shedding light to the interior of the church that glows like a candle on a sunny day. Higher above them the slits in the spires are still more narrow, bringing the eye up to the top and then the sky.
Then enter this magnificent structure.
On the ground floor, there are several reconstructed scale models of the work as Gaudi envisioned it. Most of the originals were destroyed. Photographs show the progress of construction as the building has gone through several stages. There are some of Gaudi’s funeral, as well.
Visitors who look closely at them can see many reflections of elements in the building. The Nativity scene, the story of the serpent in the garden, and many others are easily visible at the base of the central column of the Portal of Charity. The column itself is a work of sculpture unlike that found in any other city, with a complete genealogy of Christ.
Yet even the relatively plain columns are a wonder to behold. Starting out with simple Greek-style fluting they arch seamlessly high above the visitor’s head where they branch out like living trees. Joining them are a series of organic-looking flowers in stone.
Nearby is the Portal of Faith with scenes of Jesus preaching as a teen, surrounded by religious symbols such as grapes and wheat. The Portal of Hope on the other side shows animals and plants from the Nile, another site with religious significance. Sculptures of Joseph and Mary sit beneath a sculpted boat piloted by St. Joseph.
Easily the most famous building in a city with many of them, the Temple de la Sagrada Familia could consume a day on any visit to Barcelona. Plan to spend at least a couple of hours musing among the hundreds of items to see.